Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Weekly Recipes 11; Brunch!

We love brunch; making it, eating it, sharing with friends.  I made a lovely meal on Sunday for all five of us plus a friend.

{bloody mary ingredients rounded up; somehow the
pickles refused to be in the shot}
Again we started with Bloody Mary's (homemade is the way to go).  The over 21 crew each had one while I was finished cooking.  We chatted with Heather who came bearing gifts of champagne and orange juice.  Second favorite brunch drink! What a great day.

For eats I made homemade crepes and since elder daughter and I couldn't decide on either savory or sweet we went all out with both; just in less quantity.

I used two great recipes for both; savory chicken (this filling was wonderful) from Food Network and sweet from Natasha's Kitchen. I made a double batch of crepes from Natasha's recipe, leaving out the sugar. They are so easy to make no one should have to purchase them unless you're cooking for a huge crew or are seriously pressed for time.  Just swirl, flip, and save between sheets of parchment. I made them the night before and stored them in the refrigerator.  I followed the sweet recipe for the greek yogurt/cream cheese but created my own fruit sauce using frozen wild blueberries, the favorite fruit of the kids here.  

My son pointed out as we were menu planning for this brunch that I haven't made crepes for a while. Now that I've done it again I promise to put it in my regular meal rotation.  

We played several rounds of Beyond Balderdash after the plates were cleared.  A good game is as important as the food/drink served!  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Weekly Recipes 10; the Christmas Edition

It snowed here on Christmas Eve afternoon. I was out last minute shopping with my son and as we were leaving our small mall I saw huge flakes flurrying around outside the big glass doors of Von Maur. My face lit up-I know it did.  It was amazing. It was magical. I was glad he was driving so I could watch the flakes flying. I guess reading my snow books to Kinders really worked!

Our Christmas has been like that small snowstorm; fast yet filled with joy. Eldest daughter arrived safely into O'Hare airport where her dad gleefully picked her up and drove her here.  We feasted on clam chowder, fresh bread, and salad with pomegranate seeds in between church services.  It was a peaceful night, happy to be all together our meal was filled with lots of laughter and sounds of soup slurping. After eating we had time to play a favorite card game of spite and malice.

Christmas Day we achieved our goal to stay in pajamas/comfy cozies all day long. Kids were happy with gifts given and received. We lounged, napped, and colored in new themed coloring books.  We played Pictionary, another game of spite/malice, and foosball throughout the night.   And we ate and ate.  Breakfast started with delicious Bloody Mary's, grits, omelettes, and fresh fruit.  In the afternoon we had a small cut of Brie with french bread and rice crackers just to tide us over until our late dinner which was lasagna, broccoli, fresh bread, and pecan pie.

I completely made up the lasagna recipe and I am ecstatic on how it turned out.  I have a few butternut squashes from a school friend and I sliced one up and sautéd it in a skillet with coconut oil and cumin seeds. Our family is varied on the meat they will eat/not eat but the one that almost everyone will eat is ground turkey.  I, myself, am not a fan as I cannot find high-quality or organic here in town.  I have a farmer I could ask but didn't get around to it this time.  And turkey is a bit of sore subject right now with the whole avian flu outbreak.  I digress though.

I cooked the meat thoroughly, tossed it in a bowl to wait and then sautèd onions and mushrooms together with lots of oregano, thyme, cracked pepper, and sea salt.  I added the mushroom mixture to the cooked turkey and I was ready to layer.  I totally cheated on my sauce because who wants to spend the entire day in the kitchen so my friend Paul Newman helped me out with his more than adequate jar.  I tossed a little of that down first in my glass 13x9-in pan, layered some flat noodles, four across, added a layer of turkey/mushroom mix, a layer of mozzarella cheese, four more flat noodles, the amazing slices of butternut squash, sauce, cream cheese (I completely forgot I needed ricotta cheese until 4 minutes before I started making this, lucky I had cream cheese for a kid-friendly substitute), four more flat noodles, last of the meat/mushroom mixture and mozzarella sauce sprinkled over the top. I poured a glass of water over the top which seems weird but helps the noodles cook. I baked it for 45 minutes with tinfoil over the top and took the foil off for the last 15.  I let it rest on the counter top for about 20 minutes as I finished other items and got things to the table. It was bubbly and filled with flavor. Myself I would have just had two layers of squash.  Groovy Girl hated the mushroom part and the squash part.  Too bad.

I hope everyone's holiday was filled with as much joy as we had and no arguments which are bound to happen even in the coolest of families. We have more exciting events planned for the next few days but eldest daughter returns to Chicago on the morrow and flies back to Brooklyn to continue her work with Gimlet Media.  Happy Holidays!  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Let it snow, Let it snow (so we can build a snowman)

{young groovy girl with two snowpeople creations}
We don't have any snow here. A relative has shared gorgeous snow photos of Colorado but no snow here in the Midwest or at least in our corner of Iowa.

This is unacceptable for Groovy Girl.  She believes snow is part of what makes Christmas magic.  She loves pulling on her tall furry boots and heading out into the snow to play still.  But the snow has to come for her to do that. She is the only one of my kids who loves winter weather.

In order to help her out I've read books about snow and snowmen at school to kindergarten classes. Here is a list of my favorites:

1. Alice Schertle's All you need for a snowman (2007): softly illustrated by Barbara Lavallee with flowing text that moves you forward from one page to the next.  The pictures make you want to linger though.  I love everything that Alice writes.  The cover art above makes you want to flip inside.

2. Alison McGhee's Making a friend (2011): Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal with soft wispy pictures and text that tells the reader the simple water cycle as the boy builds the snowman and watches it melt only to come back to life the next winter.  Great for seasonal conversations as well.

3. Lois Ehlert's Snowballs (2001): My classic go to story of a snow family taking on new life with a variety of crazy fabrics and household items. Kids love the end pages that shares all the items Lois' used to create her snow family of kids, dog, cat,mom, and dad. Will inspire you to grab your craft bag and head out into the freezing cold to create the perfect Ehlert snowman.

4. Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick's Stranger in the woods (2000): With exquisite photographs we see woodland animals all trying to discover who has come through the woods.  The lyrical text is filled with kid-catchy sounds making the pictures come alive.  I love reading this aloud with the chick-a-dee-dee-dee and the stuttering porcupine.  The mystery is bigger than just the snowman though so keep turning the pages.  I love ending with a few suggestions on how students could help feed local animals through winter.

5. Daniel J. Mahoney's A really good snowman (2005):  I like this book because it's more than just a snowman story. It's about family and sticking together.  Jack wants to build a snowman with his friends for the annual snowman competition held at the town park.  His little sister wants to help but they send her off to do her own thing. When Jack realizes she needs his help he leaves his friends behind to stick with his sister.  It's a lovely story, cute illustrations, and a good lesson in teamwork.

6. No snowman post of mine would be complete with out mentioning my favorite snowman movie...Jack Frost with Michael Keaton as the aging rocker who is killed in an accident after playing a gig on Christmas Eve. Sounds tragic and their are tearful moments but the story is a light-hearted look at a young boy dealing with grief and a father-turned snowman dealing with leaving his family behind.  Love to watch it every year.

Most links for books lead you to Red Balloon Books in St. Paul, MN when available.  Buy independent this holiday season. Buy everyone on your list at least one book.  And send us some snow...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Half a dozen books worth giving...

In the midst of holiday shopping I came upon this thoughtful image that snapped my attention away from shiny baubles and to what really matters.  I've always leaned this way yet this year it made a bigger impact on me. Do you shop with this in mind?

We all have so much we should be grateful for; roof over our heads, plentiful food at our table, games in the cupboard, and books spilling off the bookcase.  Keeping that fun mental image in my head I am almost finished with my holiday shopping.  I have four books to pick out and then I will be done. If you are still looking for a few yourself I have a few pictures books I'd love to recommend.

1. Last Stop on Market Street (2015) by Matt de la Pena: I love this beautifully illustrated (by Christian Robinson) and well-thought out book about the world around us.  We go on a journey with C.J. and his nana as they leave church. He questions her with the whys and what ifs that occur naturally to small children.  Why don't we have a car? Why is it raining? Peppering his grandmother with curiosities she answers back kindly each time, sharing empathy along the way until C.J. feels the warmth of Nana's words.  I love the diverse and unique people Robinson depicts on each and every page.  This book is 10 stars and deserves to be wrapped up for any holiday.

2. Is Mommy? (2015) by Victoria Chang and Marla Frazee: Mothers get the short end of the stick often and their book illustrates this perfectly. In the course of a day we often appear mean, messy, boring, and little ones see us as short, ugly, and funny.  No matter what, mothers are loved as the young ones in the book shout at us gleefully.  I love books like this because it can be a call and response reading with children.  Might there be a new title in the wings "Daddy Is"?  I would love that as well.

3. Mixed Me (2015) by Taye Diggs and Shane W. Evans: I was lucky to receive a free copy of this lovely book but if I hadn't I would happily buy it. The message is a cheerful look at acceptance by Mike who loves his blended color and who he is.  We don't need to match to get along and I wish Mike could teach that to quite a few adults in today's world.  Mike's crazy hair bounces through the pictures just as Joe Cepeda's illustrations for Nappy Hair.  Love it.

4. Once upon a memory (2013) by Nina Laden and Renata Liwska: This is simple a beautiful book for all ages.  A little boy playing in his room spots a feather as it floats in through the window and it makes him wonder if the feather remembers the bird, does a book remember it was once a word...playing the sequence out several more times until we are reminded to remember that we were once children.  Such a lovely way to be reminded.  Every time I flip through this book I am filled with a sense of peace.

5. Plant a Pocket of Prairie (2014) by Phyllis Root and Betsy Bowen: For nonfiction lovers this one illustrates beautifully the reason for prairies and why it is important to refurbish prairies around us.  Betsy Bowen's Antler, Bear, Canoe; a Northwoods alphabet is a family favorite and this book is just as unique. Both Root and Bowen hail from Minnesota which is a land I love.

6. 28 Days; Moments in black history that changed the world (2015) by Charles R. Smith and Shane W. Evans:  I discovered this gem inside one of the Scholastic boxes for my recent book fair.  Combing through the glossy pages I discovered a great deal of cool history; surpassing what we already know about Rosa Parks and Dr. King.  I learned that Daniel Hale Williams successfully performed open heart surgery on a stab wound patient on July 9, 1893 in Chicago and that he opened his own hospital to welcome patients and doctors of all colors. Each page focuses on a person or event with a poem and facts.  On the inside flap the books says it is perfect for Black History Month (February) and every month. I hope the book is picked up often. Buy this one and share it with someone you love.

All titles are linked to The Red Balloon, one of my favorite bookstores in the Midwest.  Have a holly jolly whatever you celebrate and buy a book for everyone on your list.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Weekly Recipes 9 {if this week included as well}

I'm back. I finished Nation Novel Writing Month 2015-I wrote an entire story and it is longer than the 50,000 word requirement. I plan to edit it and work to get it published. I don't know how all that words so if you have any tips let me know.  At the tale end of the month we celebrated Thanksgiving with the four of us. We missed Kaylee but she always spends this holiday with her mom in St. Louis.  I wanted to enjoy the day, not be crazy about writing, and still have good food on the table.  So this is what happened.

I planned an easy menu. I decided I wanted U.S. grass-fed steaks (which we bought while in the Twin Cities), and to please all my people I made three different kinds of potatoes; sweet potatoes for me and I made those a day ahead, mashed potatoes with gravy for the men, and roasted red potatoes for Groovy Girl.  What can I say, we like potatoes.  We had fresh green beans, just sauteed a bit in coconut oil. I always make fresh cranberry sauce that doubles as jam for our bread (this time we bought it from Panera).

The thing I was most concerned about was gravy.  I needed gravy for those mashed potatoes and I did not want to get it out of a jar and I didn't have pan drippings to create my own.  So I did a little research (which means I googled it) and found an excellent recipe that I will make again come Christmas dinner.

The gravy recipe is from Chocolate Moosey.  I used veggie stock and it was a light color (think biscuit gravy) but the taste was phenomenal. It made enough to fill a quart-jar with leftovers that we used (still using for leftover potatoes). That was the gravy recipe I was searching for the whole time we were vegetarians.  Now I've got it.

The cranberry recipe is from Epicurious. I love listening to the tart round berries popping as this simmers. Nothing says holiday meal like that sound in my kitchen.  That and wine pouring. I still have leftover sauce and I used it just last night on a piece of homemade bread.  Yum.

Those are my only two Thanksgiving recipes to share except my husband made an excellent sweet potato cheesecake that deserves it's own post. Playing catch-up for not cooking much in November I made two fantastic meals over the weekend for my husband and son to enjoy together. Groovy Girl is out of the country and not spending every waking moment hunched over my typewriter has freed me up a bit of extra time.

I literally whipped together a dish the other night using diced butternut squash, a pound of farmer-bought hamburger, a Trader Joe's curry simmer sauce, and Israeli couscous.  It was delicious and I should have snapped a photo. That and a nice big green salad and dinner was on the table in about 40 minutes.

{Serious Eats}
Yesterday I had the pleasure of creating a recipe from start to finish which is truly one of life's joys. When you can cook unhurried and enjoy the process.  I planned the menu, I made a batch of dough in the morning that would be ready to bake by dinner, and I set a time early enough that my son would be able to stop here and have dinner before heading to work.

I made a really unique beef stroganoff that was amazing. The sauce, rich with mushroom flavor and pearl onions, would also pair perfectly with tofu-which would gladly soak up the sauce. The recipe is from Serious Eats and I liked reading all the research that went into making a better stroganoff. I don't know what possessed me to choose this but it was a fun recipe to try.

Happy cooking.